On Thursday, May 24, 2018, eligible Barbadians will participate in a general election to determine the members of the House of Assembly who will collectively lead our country for the next few years. This is an extremely important exercise which must not be taken for granted as the right for the people of a country to have a say in who leads and directs their affairs is not universal. As citizens of a democratic society, we not only have the opportunity but the right to cast our votes for the individuals and the team that we believe will offer the best possible future for us and our nation.
In our country, all persons at or over the age of 18, who are citizens of Barbados or the Commonwealth (having resided in Barbados for at least three years prior to the qualifying date), are entitled to vote in a general election. However, it must be noted that this now universal adult right and privilege was not always structured in such a manner. In 1901, for instance, the entitlement to vote was primarily granted on the grounds of property ownership. At that time, the ownership of land in this country was concentrated in the hands of a certain class of people whilst the vast majority of the citizenry had no input in the selection of their representatives. Invariably, this meant that those elected to serve in the House of Assembly sought to address the needs of the few whilst the desires of the many laid unattended.
The one-sidedness was not only visible relative to property and income levels but it was also quite apparent along gender lines. A deeper examination of the history behind this right we have to vote reveals that it was only around 1944 that women became eligible to vote and also to be elected or appointed to either house – once they satisfied the same qualifications as their male counterparts. Following on from this point, it was not until 1948, that the first female member of either house appeared, as Mrs Muriel Hanschell was appointed to the Legislative Council. This opened door was then used by Edna Bourne (now Dame Edna) in 1951, as she became the first female to be elected to the House of Assembly.
The preceding reveals that an unfortunate imbalance characterised the voting process and the associated election or appointment of leaders in this country. It was not until 1950, that universal adult suffrage was introduced and through it, the abolishing of the property qualification for membership of the General Assembly. The passing of this bill empowered every member of our society aged 21 and over, to be able to exercise his or her franchise to vote for members of the House of Assembly. In 1963, this was built upon and extended to all citizens aged 18 or over.
As you can see, we have come a long way from the period of 1627 to 1944 where the average citizen was relegated to a backseat position in the land of his or her birth. We now have the right, and indeed the honour, of casting our vote for those whom we deem competent to represent us and lead our country. It is a right that was fought for and purchased by the blood, sweat, and tears of those who passed before us and it is not one that should be taken lightly.
I am often taken aback when I hear persons who say that they are not voting in an election – it boggles my mind. We have an opportunity to have a say in the selection of those who will make decisions that will affect each and every one of us, but yet some persons would intentionally choose to forfeit that chance. How could we? How could a woman in 2018 refuse to vote when women prior to 1944 were hungry for an opportunity to do exactly that? How could a man who owns no property and who does not have great material wealth choose not to vote in 2018 when prior to 1950, the vast majority of men in similar circumstances were fighting for the right to so do? We must never intentionally miss an opportunity to exercise our franchise, our right to vote, as every vote counts and our future ultimately depends on it.
Finally, I would like to remind us that our vote should not carry a price tag. There are some persons who believe that they should offer for sale and accept payment for the casting of a vote for one person or the other. This is wrong and it should never occur. Your vote can be based on what you want to see for yourself and your country going forward, it can be based on the previous performance of a candidate or party, it can even be based on your principles and values, but it should never be based on the receiving of a tangible gift. Money disappears quickly and gadgets fail in short order but the decisions or indecisions of our elected representatives can have long-reaching effects that can impact negatively or positively on us, our children and their children.
As you examine it all and weigh everything out, I encourage you to make up in your mind that you will vote, and in voting, that you will not allow your vote to be cheapened or reduced in any way, but you will appreciate the history behind this right and you will proudly exercise it for the future that you want to see in our nation.
(Davidson Ishmael holds a MBA in Leadership and Innovation and is an operations manager in the financial services sector.